On this day in 1917, four teams of the National Hockey League (NHL) play in the fledgling league’s first two games. At the time of its inception, the NHL was made up of five franchises: the Canadiens and the Wanderers (both of Montreal), the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs and the Toronto Arenas. The Montreal teams won two victories that first day, as the Canadiens beat Ottawa 7-4 and the Wanderers triumphed over Toronto 10-9.
The first professional ice hockey league was the International Pro Hockey League, founded in 1904 in Michigan. After it folded, two bigger leagues emerged in Canada: the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast League (PCL). In 1914, the two leagues played a championship series, and the winner was awarded the famous silver bowl donated for Canada’s amateur hockey leagues by Lord Stanley, the English governor general of Canada, in 1892. The NHA stopped operating during World War II, and after the war the five elite teams from Canada formed the NHL in its place. Despite that early defeat, Toronto went on to win the inaugural season. In March 1918, they defeated the PCL champions, the Vancouver Millionaires, three games to two for the Stanley Cup.
By 1926, the PCL had folded, and the 10 teams of the NHL divided into two divisions. The champions of each those two divisions--the Eastern and the Western Conference--now face each other at the end of each season in the Stanley Cup Championship.